Can a city brand make money and pay for itself?
The commercialisation of place brands is in its infancy. If we look at the commercial sphere – where branding is at its most sophisticated – and compare a city to a product such as MindCandy’s Moshi Monsters or a famous personality like David Beckham, it is clear in both instances that both ‘brands’ stretch across multiple products and have a sprawling brand architecture which grows seemingly effortlessly into all that they touch. Beckham’s is the exemplification of the modern-day branding strategy in that the brand came first and the commercialisation followed, forming brand partnerships with major labels such as Adidas and Pepsi as well as creating new independent products such as his own brand of men’s fragrance.
Anyone in the UK with young children will be familiar with Moshi Monsters – originally a digital pet based in an online world – and its extraordinary expansion into multiple product-lines. It’s usual for a brand like this to reach the school lunch-boxes and duvet covers, but the brand’s continued expansion is almost like a franchise as it is now moving into previously independent toy lines such as ‘GoGos’, Top Trumps, and classics such as Monopoly. The extent of the franchise and the ease with which it forms commercial partnerships demonstrates the true power of the brand.
But there are few places, cities or regions that have truly set out on a strategy to commercialise and exploit their brands and those that have are still in the early stages of their approach. New York has actively pursued an approach of commercialising its brand and brand logo, carefully taking an inventory of its assets – and where possible creating product lines such as NYPD and FDNY hats and sweatshirts. This has been much more difficult of course with the classic I ♥ NY symbol being owned by New York State. But maybe the city of New York’s greatest success is not in logo commercialisation but in the spirit and heart of New York being alive and seen in every film that is produced there. What bigger commercialisation success can be achieved by a city than to be portrayed in films such as the Spiderman franchise where an active marketing partnership exists?
London has made some forays into this area of product brand lines, with various product lines created by Visit London to try and exploit the natural desire of every tourist to prove they’ve visited a major world city. But in the area of commercial partnerships, surely the most effective method to gain visibility, by leasing the brand and letting the commercial partner undertake the marketing, London now has the architecture and approach in place. The marketing organisation London & Partners was created specifically to build brand and commercial partnerships and has now put in place a series of brand ‘kite marks’ to work with tourism and business partners offering services to tourists or inward investors which enable them to exploit the power of the London brand and capture the benefits of ‘officialness’. London & Partners benefits as its inward investment or tourism promotion is undertaken directly by a partner. London has not been able to develop this model as swiftly as Berlin, where Berlin and Partners has created a brand architecture which allows lead partners such as Siemens or even foreign-owned BAE Systems to co-brand in the “ich bin ein berliner’ campaign thereby showing the specialist sectors that the city can host and enabling the commercial partner to set themselves as the leader in that sector.
Commercial Partnerships of the Future
On the matter of commercial partnerships however, cities are trailing. Not in comparison with each other, but failing to match the speed at which the private sector is exploiting city brands. Nowhere can this be seen more than in the case of Olympic Games. Cities are yet to truly win from this holy grail of a brand partnership in which the power of the Olympic Rings, the power of global brands and the power of the city brand come together. That’s why most commercial brands are willing to pay an ‘entry fee’ of $70m before even beginning to build advertising and product marketing campaigns to plaster the city and reach consumers. Yes, cities have got wise and are creating extensive product lines which exploit the city brand and go towards paying for the Games – London will prove to have been extraordinarily successful in this strategy when the post-Games reckoning is complete – but no-one has yet been able to ensure that when THE greatest commercial circus arrives in town, they have created immediate economic benefit for the city – not just funding the Games but paying for city legacy projects – or have built long-term economic partnerships that will ensure lasting brand partnerships with mutual benefit. Imagine the multiple advantages for the city that might grow from a structured commercial brand system like Berlin’s. There is still time for Rio to be a trailblazer in this field.
MD of Global Cities Ltd.